Transcontinental Series: United

by on July 30, 2012 · 30 comments

in Elite Status, United

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This is a post in my new Transcontinental Series aimed at helping flyers choose the best options while flying coast-to-coast, as well as strategies on leveraging elite status and miles to get the most valuable upgrades possible. Other posts include: American AirlinesDelta, JetBlue, and Virgin America. Today I’ll be talking about United’s transcontinental routes to/from JFK and the best ways for you to get upgraded on them.

United offers p.s. (premium service) on its JFK-LAX/SFO routes. 

Planes and Classes of Service
United flies 757-200 p.s. planes on their JFK-LAX/SFO routes. It has just 3 classes of service: first class, business class and Economy Plus. That’s right, no regular old economy on the plane. Hence the “p.s. (Premium Service)” attribution. First class has 12 lie-flat seats, business class has 26 recliner seats with 54-inch pitch and 20.5 inches of width – pretty standard, though still narrow – and Economy Plus has 72 seats. The p.s. planes also are all equipped with Gogo WiFi.

United also flies from Newark to Los Angeles/San Francisco. Although they don’t have premium planes, those routes are eligible for complimentary upgrades. Some flights are operated by 757s with lie flat beds, but seeing as EWR and San Francisco are United hubs, it’s hard to snag the upgrades – especially with United’s aggressive buy-up program. For the sake of comparing to AA/Delta, I decided to focus on the JFK p.s. service.

United First Class p.s. JFK-LAX/SFO

United First p.s.

  • Complimentary amenities including eye shade, ear plugs and dental kit
  • Complimentary duvet and pillow for use during your flight
  • Lie-flat seat
  • Personal media players featuring touch screen capability and more than 20 movies and 50 TV shows, hundreds of MP3s and video games
  • Noise-reducing headsets
  • Power outlets
  • Premier Access check-in, baggage handling, boarding, deplaning and security lanes (where available)
  • First class lounge access (even on award tickets)
United Business p.s. seats.

United Business p.s.

  • Reclining seats with up to 55 inches between the back of one seat and the front edge of the next
  • Premier Access check-in, baggage handling, boarding, deplaning and security lanes (where available)
  • Power outlets
  • Personal media players featuring touch screen capability and more than 20 movies and 50 TV shows, hundreds of MP3s and video games
  • Noise-reducing headsets
  • Access to United Club in New York (JFK), Los Angeles and San Francisco (even on award tickets)
When I’ve flown Business, the real disappointment was the in-flight entertainment, which were tiny 7-inch handheld LCD screens loaded with about 20 movies and 30 TV episodes and some music. Plus, you couldn’t really use them while working or eating since you’d need to set them down on the tray table.

United Economy p.s.

  • Economy Plus seating throughout the entire cabin, offering up to 5 extra inches of legroom
  • Fresh food options, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, available for purchase on flights departing prior to 8 p.m.
  • Power outlets
Using Miles
United Business p.s. dining. One-way business awards start at 25,000 miles.

Award travel on United transcontinental routes start at 12,500 miles for coach each-way for saver availability, or 25,000 miles each-way for standard availability. Business Class awards start 25,000 miles each-way for saver availability or 50,000 miles each-way for standard availability. First Class awards are 35,000 miles each-way for saver availability or 70,000 miles each way for standard availability.

What I like the most about United’s p.s. service is the amazing amount of “low-level” award availability – even during peak times. This is a great option if you have Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards (transferred to Aeroplan) since fares can get ridiculous on that route – especially in business class. Just remember that United charges a $75 last-minute ticketing fee for all awards booked within 21 days, though paying this fee and using miles can still make a lot of sense when redeeming for last minute flights on this route, which can be extremely expensive.

Elite Benefits
United p.s. flights are not valid for complimentary premier upgrades (whereas Delta does allow complimentary Medallion upgrades and American for Executive Platinum members). Customers wishing to upgrade must use regional premier upgrades or global premier upgrades to upgrade. Premier members will earn two Regional Premier Upgrades when they reach 75,000 premier qualifying miles or 90 premier qualifying segments, plus two more for each 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS earned thereafter. Regional premier upgrades can also be used on all flights between the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as all between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO).

Premier 1K (100,000 elite miles) members earn 6 one-way systemwide upgrades at hitting 100,000 EQMs, and then 2 more for each additional 50,000 elite miles earned. These are valid on any fare class and are transferable to others and eligible on Copa flights as well. You will also earn two more for each 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS earned after reaching Premier 1K. Each global premier upgrade is valid for a single one-way, one-cabin upgrade so you can’t upgrade from economy to first, only economy to business, or business to first.

Other Upgrade Strategies
United is known for selling upgrades in advance so you can always log in to to view your reservation and see if it offers you a “buy-up” to business or first class. On a recent business class award I was offered the opportunity to buy up to first for $400 – not worth it in my opinion since I find the business class seats comfortable enough and if I really wanted to fly first, I’d just shell out the extra 10,000 miles needed beyond a business class award.

Other Perks

United First Lounge at LAX.

United offers First Class lounges and regular Club access for business class travelers between JFK and Los Angeles/San Francisco on both paid and award tickets. For those traveling in business class, customers will have access to the United Club in New York (JFK), Los Angeles and San Francisco. Customers  traveling in First Class will have access to the United International First Lounge with complimentary liquor, hors d’oeuvres and breakfast in New York (JFK), Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • PedroNY

    Great continuation of your series. Thank you for doing this for American and Delta as well, very helpful to have an objective look at all 3 major airlines.



  • Wandering Aramean

    Ummm…up to 5″ extra pitch in E+?? On which planes? That simply doesn’t exist on the p.s. 752s. The E+ section on those planes is 34″ pitch, the worst in the fleet. So unless there are other aircraft flying around with 29″ pitch the 5″ bit is a great read of the UA marketing slicks but a pretty poor actual analysis.

    Also, there are no fare restrictions when using GPUs on these flights.

    Finally, despite the way it is phrased, there is free booze in the UClubs even for the business class passengers.

    These posts would be a lot more useful if they actually understood and explained the nuance rather than just copied marketing blurbs from the website.

  • Eggss4

    The lack of auto-upgrades on this route is totally a bummer when compared to other programs. That said, it’s been my experience that if Y is oversold, United will auto-upgrade elites to the remaining business class seats (got lucky on a LAX-JFK redeye a few months back because of this).

  • steve

    I transfer to SQ instead of Aeroplan for United p.s. flights–they offer one-way flights and only charge 40k r/t versus 50k for Aeroplan.

  • Matt

    US Air lists award redemption for both business and first class in the US at 50,000 miles. Do they have access to the first class award inventory on these flights even though its the same rate as business?

  • Andrew

    I did a mile-run on this exact route (JFK-LAX r/t) and I can attest to the poor video entertainment. I tried my darnedest to get in to the first class cabin but couldn’t score that premium upgrade. Problem though on your post: the first class photo you have is not the first class cabin of this equipment. It is very similar to the Global First Class seat…a far improvement to your domestic first class pic.

    This flight is worth a business class fare or mile run.

  • Felix


  • Andrew L

    I appreciate this series because about 80% of my yearly flights are on this route but I wish you had put a little more effort into it.

    I don’t like that you almost completely ignored the current AA hard product and that you chose to leave out UA EWR-LAX. I haven’t flown that route in a few years and it would be useful to many to have a direct comparison to JFK-LAX service.

  • Liz

    Because EWR is a United hub, it’s often necessary to fly EWR-LAX when you’ve got an additional connection. Any chance you can add a little additional info on that route? I’ve found it to have a wide mix of plane types, and was wondering if there is any rhyme or reason to which plane is flown at a particular time. When you don’t score an upgrade 6 hours is a long time with no plug at the seat, only overhead monitors, and a dead laptop…

  • Mary Thompson

    The photo in the post is actually correct. I dont know what PS flights you’ve been on, but the PS First Class is nothing like the Global First Seat.

  • arcticbull

    You’re absolutely right.

    It is the lamest Economy Plus in the whole fleet.

    Speaking of nuances, it’s important to consider that First is often *way* more available that Business precisely because people ignore it. Consider that US Airways doesn’t differentiate between 2-cabin and 3-cabin First on domestic awards. You can book all that sweet First availability for the same price as Business if you use US Air miles.

    And with the recent US Air 100% buy miles promo First @ 50k is $940 round trip. I bet the paid fares are higher than that :)

  • arcticbull

    +1. It’s exactly as pictured. Worse, actually, because it looks clean in the photo ;)

  • arcticbull

    Yes, they do. I booked one recently. Works exactly as you think it should :) I’m not sure it was worth 50K but I figured since they were removing First and this cost the same as Business I would give it a go before the party was over. Also availability is much better in First award than Business award because most programs charge a premium.

  • arcticbull

    Of course, are they going to kick you off? :P When IRROPS hit, the rules go out the window.

  • thepointsguy

    Nice call with the US Airways domestic first/biz redemption- much better than paying 70k roundtrip using United miles!

  • thepointsguy

    LOL I flew it recently and the seat was pretty battered.. oh well, still much better than regular domestic first class!

  • thepointsguy

    Good call- will add to the post. Just a shame that you have to call to book

  • thepointsguy

    EWR-LAX is a mix of domestic first class with an occasional business class plane mixed in..not as good as the JFK p.s. flights by any stretch

  • PJ

    I still have abouy 200 MRs to trasnfer out before paying all annual fees. I have been planning to transfer into Aeroplan as the best and last resort. Can transfer from MR to SQ instead of aeroplan save me miles if I plan to fly United non stop coast to coast?

  • Jim

    I was trying to think of a good way to say I totally don’t appreciate your posts….but then I thought how lucky you guys are for living some place where you can take any plane except an RJ145…

    Back in the good ol’ days, we had TWA in STL, and could get anywhere on DC-9 or above. I would love to try this route, but I’d have to fly a regional jet to get there just to try it!! HA!

    Cut TPG some slack…maybe he was tired or something. Sheesh!

  • PJ

    AA is well well back in the league for last class award seats. When it was the last time I could hop on EWR-LAX non stop ?
    I got 150 K ( 2X75) with 1.5K and 4.5K spend ( high in 2011 standard :)) so farI have not been able to shed anyAA points while watching my UA points sinking …..

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  • Flyerdad

    I don’t get the reason for the snark. If you had deleted “actually understood” and the “rather than just c opied marketing blurbs from the westie” you would have communicated the same info without getting personal or making unhelpful asides. I like your blog–and TPG’s. I’ve seen the blogging community disagree without being disagreeable; it’s informative and can even be fun. This wasn’t.

  • Scott McMillan

    TPG… are you aware that shortly United will be dropping first from the P.S. flights and switching to a 2 class cabin? I have been told this by both ticket agents and flight attendants. The plan is to have a Business Elite cabin with 24 seats I believe, and the rest Economy Plus. I think this should factor into your comparison. It is truly a shame, because I fly regularly all for carriers from JFK-SFO/LAX and enjoy United’s P.S. the best. While the seats are better on American, United’s meals are far better than American’s.

  • tivoboy

    maybe, but it ain’t lie flat not way no how

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